Monday, March 27, 2006

Stripping Down #1

The New Invaders "To End All Wars"
by Allan Jacobsen, C.P. Smith,

Jorge Lucas & Scott Kolins

In the past couple of years, Marvel Comics have seen fit to relaunch several of it's team books with a "New" pre-fix, most notably The Avengers, The X-Men and Excalibur (featuring Captain Britain), thereby proving that there's nothing new in this world after all. The Invaders was perhaps an unusual choice for a reboot, a 1970's series featuring the World War II adventures of Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch, plus other characters such as Union Jack and Spitfire who were 'retrofitted' into Marvel continuity. Allan Jacobsen, the series author was also an unusual choice: this collection credits him as a 'Hollywood writer', but he's probably more recognisable as the writer/director of animated TV series King Of The Hill. Add to that an unknown main artist in C.P. Smith - the better known Jorge Lucas and Scott Kolins are respectively responsible for a fill-in issue and cover art - and it's arguably little surprise that the title struggled alongside the higher profile New Avengers. (Before you ask, New Avengers sadly didn't feature Steed, Purdey and Gambit, but did have the creative 'big guns' of Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch). The New Invaders managed a courageous nine issues before Marvel pulled the plug on the title, though a paperback collection is available for Johnny Come Latelys like myself. The story of the team's reformation is actually told in The Avengers and a promotional issue #0, neither of which are available here. I've not read these either of these preludes, but this book's accessibility meant that I didn't feel like I'd missed a vital part of the story. As this series begins, WWII and Invader veteran The Thin Man has developed a battleship called The Infiltrator, which is capable of extra-dimensional travel, thereby transcending both geographical/political borders and enemy lines. The motivation for this project has been the emergence of a terrorist group called Axis Mundi, whose roots lie in the Third Reich, and The New Invaders are ostensibly drawn together to combat this threat.

Naturally, being Marvel, most of the original Invaders line-up are here, thanks to immortality, secret potions, rejuvenation or resurrection. One exception is Captain America, who is not the original (due to his current membership of The Avengers) but a previous - and temporary - replacement John Walker, now known as USAgent. A second is yet another android Human Torch, called Tara, whose mysterious past provides a sub-plot for the series. Jacobsen obviously has a great love for all of these characters and delights in developing tensions between them. Blazing Skull, an immortal whose time in a Middle East concentration camp seems to have driven him completely loopy, provides the comic relief; Walker's gung ho patriotism simiarly appears to have resulted in madness of a different kind; the Sub-Mariner has a plausible reason for aiding this current incarnation and is well characterised throughout. The most interesting relationships, however, are found in the bizarre love triangle between Jim Hammond (the original Human Torch), Spitfire and Union Jack. Jacobsen has clearly done his homework for The New Invaders. Rather than swamping the reader with exposition and continuity references, there is plenty to keep those familiar with the characters happy, whilst avoiding alienating those who aren't.

C.P. Smith's art also impresses from the outset. Whilst seeming to struggle with proportion and anatomy in 'long shot' crowd scenes, there is an expressiveness and fluidity in Smith's art that is lacking in more technically accomplished contemporaries. I was reminded in a positive way of Gary Erskine's art in the original The Knights of Pendragon series, which coincidentally also starred Union Jack. Scott Kolins provides some striking cover art for the first five issues, before Smith takes over this task, with equal success.

The initial 3-part arc sets up the premise for the series, as the team comes together and Axis Mundi attempt to hijack The Infiltrator. The following 2-parter Blood is a chilling tale of modern day vampires, which spotlights Spitfire and Union Jack, and their tragic history. Unfortunately, a guest appearance by the ubiquitous Wolverine in issue 6 would undoubtedly have been seen as a sign that all was not well, sales-wise. However, Jacobsen does a good job of convincingly incorporating the reader-friendly slugfest between the feral X-Man and Namor, though Jorge Lucas' heavy visual style lacks the nuances of Smith's approach. The final three issues reveal more of The Thin Man's past and his real motivation for pursuing Axis Mundi, the arrival of the original Captain America with the proverbial spanner, plus the identity of the Invaders' own infiltrator. Assuming that the series' cancellation was announced at short notice, Jacobsen delivers a satisfying denouement, resolving the storyline with both a pyrrhic victory and a sense that there are further tales of The Invaders to be told. On the basis of this collection, I for one will be keeping my eyes open, especially if Allan Jacobsen and C.P. Smith are involved. In the meantime, check out this criminally underrated series.

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